Listen With Others

Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin

Listener 4492, Mad Tom’s Traps: A Setter’s Blog by Hedge-sparrow

Posted by Listen With Others on 26 Mar 2018

When I was a lad (a long time ago!) I was given an I Spy Butterflies and Moths book (still available, I’m pleased to say, though now with super colour photos and words like “funky” used to describe the creatures). Armed with this tome, I spent many enjoyable hours, both in the garden and also exploring the chalk landscape of the Chiltern Hills near to my home, looking for all sorts of caterpillars and butterflies and moths described within its pages, and scoring points based on the rarity of the particular examples found.

I didn’t realise then, of course, that, nearly fifty years later, this early fascination would eventually lead to the compiling of a crossword puzzle based on these beautiful creatures: for my love of searching for and observing butterflies has never left me. Indeed, it was only a few years ago that I awarded myself 50 I-spy points for observing for the first time a swallowtail butterfly in the Norfolk Broads!

Enough reminiscing. I had in mind that the subject of butterflies and moths could make a nice puzzle for the Listener series but, as is often the way, I wasn’t sure how to implement it. Then, in 2015, there appeared in The Magpie crossword magazine a puzzle – Fair Game by Mr Magoo – whose “mechanics” seemed to lend themselves perfectly to the butterfly theme. The idea that immediately came to mind was to introduce a LEPIDOPTERIST through the resolution of clashes in the initial grid, and then to produce a collection of butterflies and moths through further changes brought about by introducing the letters of BUTTERFLY NET. Rather unusually, this initial concept worked exactly as originally conceived.

I was rather concerned that my basing the “mechanics” of Mad Tom’s Traps on Mr Magoo’s earlier puzzle might be considered unacceptable, even though the content is, of course, entirely original. I certainly didn’t want to be accused of plagiarism, so in my submission, I did indicate that I had done this. However, nothing was said about it, so I hope it is alright.

To give solvers some help in identifying the “hunter”, I wanted the letters of the word LEPIDOPTERIST to replace those of another word or phrase that could be indicated in the preamble. Butterfly hunting being predominately a summertime activity, I chose SUMMER FLOWERS as the second phrase, with enough letters different from LEPIDOPTERIST hopefully to make the identification of the hunter fairly straightforward. I assumed that, once the hunter was identified, the identification of her or his equipment as BUTTERFLY NET would be obvious.

The main work of the puzzle’s compilation was to choose a selection of butterflies and moths each of whose names could be changed to another word by replacement of one of the letters of BUTTERFLY NET. This term having twelve letters, I therefore needed twelve butterflies and moths. Some, such as gatekeeper (→ game-keeper) and orange tip (→ orange pip) suggested themselves immediately, but to generate a list of possibilities took quite a while, even armed with the internet and various other reference works (including dear old I Spy Butterflies and Moths!) A further constraint was that I wanted all the names to be verifiable by Chambers, so in the end, my list was not very long, and I didn’t have much flexibility in the choice of names to include in the puzzle. I must admit that there are one or two – bugong, for example – that I’d not heard of before.

The next problem was to fit an appropriate selection of the words derived from the names into a symmetrical grid, ensuring that, when the appropriate letters were changed to give the names of butterflies and moths, real words still remained. I am a setter who does not use any tools (other than a dictionary and other reference works) to assist in the compiling of puzzles – I enjoy the process of creating a filled thematic grid, and like to do it using my own little grey cells alone. For this step, I deliberately developed the grid so that most of the changes to create the names occurred at unchecked cells. The idea was that, again to give solvers a bit of help in the final step, the letters to be replaced could be indicated by a word or phrase mentioned in the preamble. At this stage, I had no idea what that word or phrase might be, but when I had eventually managed to create a filled grid, I discovered that the letters that needed to be replaced to form the names could be arranged into the phrase MAD TOM’S TRAPS, and I felt that was good enough for the purpose. This also, of course, became the name of the puzzle.

Cluing, as always, took ages, but the puzzle was rather unusual in having entirely normal clues, which helped. There was a bit of additional pre-publication editing of the clues, with the puzzle finally being published on 3rd March 2018. This was a puzzle that I really enjoyed compiling: I hope that it was also an enjoyable one to solve.

As ever, thanks are due to Shane and Roger, the Listener Crossword editors, for their unstinting efforts and support in getting Mad Tom’s Traps ready for publication.


3 Responses to “Listener 4492, Mad Tom’s Traps: A Setter’s Blog by Hedge-sparrow”

  1. Steve said

    After a few weeks of finally feeling like I’ve got the hang of The Listener, I was stumped by this one. (I think I’m not so good with clashes; I really rely on those crossing letters to solve these clues at the moment!) Annoyingly I’d figured out the shape of the endgame (replacement of SUMMER FLOWERS and MAD TOM’S TRAPS), but having only identified three clashes I was nowhere near getting LEPIDOPTERIST. I shall console myself with the fact that I understood the puzzle, even if I couldn’t get to the final answers.

    Thanks Hedge-sparrow for the tough workout!

  2. Steve, sorry to hear that you were stumped by this one, but hopefully you learned something along the way. If it’s any consolation, I find clashes a pig as well!


  3. Steve said

    Hey, no problem — I wasn’t complaining! 🙂 Every failed solve teaches me something new and makes me better at the next one.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: